root work journal - calls.
SUMMONING FLIGHT: Navigating Black Mythology, Flight, and Acts of Refusal— Volume 2, Issue 1
“They say the people could fly. Say that long ago in Africa, some of the people knew magic. And they would walk up on the air like climbing up on a gate. And they flew like Blackbirds over the fields.” — Virginia Hamilton
Our last call asked us to consider the ocean as an initiation into new ways that ‘helped our ancestors forge new rhythms and radical visions of existing not tied to land, place, people, customs, or religion, but rather reinvention’. Our desire for freedom, the fierce refusal to remain bound by the brutality of the hull and overtaken by the ocean has conjured a refusal in our spirit that carries us forward. As we continue our ‘search for freedom and the meaning of our existence beyond the confines of the predatory systems that brought us here’, we reckon with the prospect of a mode of transport which allows Black bodies to do more than simply rise above circumstance: Black flight.
Myth is what survives a people, as the people themselves survive. For Toni Morrison, a particular Black myth she’d heard as a child would serve as the basis for a novel she entitled, Song of Solomon. The myth details Black slaves that survived the Middle Passage and had been brought over to the United States with the ability to fly. Under certain conditions of hardship experienced on the plantation, these Africans would pick up the air with great wings and begin to soar up and onward to Africa. Much like what Morrison was told in childhood had also been preserved in the slave narratives she combed through that were conducted from 1936-1938 by the Federal Writers’ Project, which described this fascinating phenomena of flight when prompted by interviewers who’d ask survivors of Slavery if they had ever heard or seen certain slaves fly.
NAVIGATING THE OCEAN: On the surreal legacy of Black Life & Resistance in the 21st Century - Volume 1, Issue 2
"Both a material and psychic map, the Underground Railroad contained and signified secret knowledge and secret knowledge sharing. These black geographies and travels remained secreted because disclosing the routes to the public would “close the slightest avenue” to black freedoms. The Underground Railroad was an emancipatory lifeline if untold/unwritten, and site of violence/death if told/written. A covert operation, which was developed through human networks rather than scientific/cartographic writings, the Underground Railroad illustrates how historical black geographies are developed alongside clandestine geographic-knowledge practices. These practices signaled that spaces of black liberation were invisibly mapped across the United States and Canada and that this invisibility is, in fact, a real and meaningful geography. The life and death of black subjects was dependent on the unmapped knowledges, while the routes gave fugitives, Frederick Douglass wrote, “invisible agency.” Continuing in a different direction, the middle passage is, obviously, not simply a theoretical concept: it is a body of water and time on a body of water, which is interconnected to black imaginative work and different forms of black politics and black travels and exiles. The meanings of the middle passage are simultaneously multiscalar and contextual. It is a geography that matters because it carries with it (and on it) all sorts of historically painful social encounters and all sorts of contemporary social negotiations."
- Katherine McKittrick
Root Work Journal invites you to wade in the water of our existence with this call to reflect on contemporary Black life after the hold.
This special issue is an invitation to journey through the mucky, rotted fragments of civilization in order to unearth where we are // who we are // and what we’ve become // in the wake of the hold.
This call is immersed in powerful spirit of the water; specifically, water’s ability to permeate our bodies, memories and experiences of time. By invoking the spirit of water, we invite you to step in to, or through, a medium offering more resistance than the air we breathe. To move or proceed with the difficult labor of now (our past/present/future) in search of freedom and the meaning of our existence beyond the confines of the predatory systems that brought us here.
This call thinks through the limits of the so called human and envisions our kinship past the confines of this position. For as Black people have been deemed inhuman through bondage to police terror (Spillers, 1987; Wynter, 1994), we call for a refusal to reach towards a status of human and rather look to our non-human kin that continues to teach us how to move with, be taught through, and be of water (Gumbs, 2020). Thinking outside of the nomenclature of man reveals possibilities in a hierarchical standard of being that necessitates the subjugation of Blackness.
This special issue is a meditation on the vast uncertainties of our ocean. It seeks to trouble the status of human and open us to the vastness of our ocean. Ultimately, this issue attempts to speak to the consumption and commodification of Black life in the 21st century. The issue calls out the moves to commodify Blackness and at the same time meditate on our strategies of fugitivity, maroonage, and creating worlds that are in opposition to the current state of being. To get there, we will take a deeper dive into these areas of Black life in the Americas: our lived realities, the capital exploitation of our existence, our moves towards rebellion, and the way we consume technologies.
CONVENING IN THE ARK: Black & Sacred Sites of Revelation - Volume 1, Issue 1
“From the holding cell, was it possible to see beyond the end of the world and to imagine living and breathing again?” - Saidiya Hartman
This call invites black people to respond to the reflections below:
In this time of crisis, we are invited to re-member that our ancestors were never allotted a six-foot margin between bodies to safeguard their wellness.
Yet no other peoples in the history of our time dreamt more – or more daringly – while chained and stacked together spoon-like on large floating coffins. As much a vehicle of capture, the slave ship was also a convening site for the manifestations of Sankofas: radical envisionings and returns to Black life before and beyond numerous world endings (Ani, 1994). On these ships, our ancestors plotted and carried out explosive rebellions and inventive poisonings. Some prophesied their futures as fugitives who would escape overboard to an afterlife under the ocean or the swampy outskirts of the plantation. Countless more employed less apparent, unarchived, and uncaptured tactics that nonetheless ensured their (and our) survival.